Dumb Ways to Die

Yellowstone National Park
May 25, 2018

From inside our room at the lodge, I can draw black-out curtains to postpone the morning until I am ready to interact with the world, one of the many luxuries wild animals do not get to enjoy. I pity their inability to sleep in as they have to start the day whenever the sun tells them to. Since most animals feed in the morning and evening, those are typically the best times of day to watch for wildlife. Open meadows with uninterrupted tree lines and a possible nearby water source offer the ideal viewing location. On our sunrise wildlife viewing in Lamar Valley, small crowds of cars helped dictate potentially rewarding observation areas. Patient spectators quietly congregated off the main road behind expensive cameras and high-tech binoculars. We felt fortunate to befriend the couple next to us with extensive viewing gear and share a glimpse of a momma wolf with her cubs lounging in a small cave in the distant hillside; such a peaceful way to start our morning. We also experienced our first bison traffic jam here. Even though we saw more bison than any other wildlife by far, it never got any less exciting witnessing these gentle (looking) giants.

After breakfast in Canyon Lodge, we wandered through the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. With so many neighboring and accessible attractions, this area makes a great place to spend at least a half day. We first arrived at Artist Point, a location made famous in the late 1800s. Incredible colors illuminate this area, especially the red rocks dyed by iron oxidation. Artists use to paint the landscape here and this specific image of the park would help early travelers decide if they wanted to make the long and costly journey to visit Yellowstone.

Artist Point with Mom. How groovy are her shades?

Visitors today find this scene no less enchanting. Artist Point offers the best view of the Lower Falls, the biggest in the park towering 308 feet (94m), nearly twice as high as Niagara Falls. It is hard to fathom the strength of both the Upper and Lowers Falls’ strength in comparison to its mammoth dwelling canyon that spans 24 miles (39km), up to 1,200 feet (370m) deep and ¾ miles (1.2km) wide in some places. Those are colossal figures when you consider its creation. While geologists are still uncovering its truth, the canyon’s V-shaped valley lead them to believe the river eroded the terrain. Mom and I hoped to follow the trail to Sublime Point, but despite coming prepared with our bear bells, the mud from the melting snow deterred us. Other major points of interest in the area include Uncle Tom’s Trail on the South Rim and Inspiration Point on the North Rim but unfortunately, both were under construction when we visited.

Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone

Halfway between the Grand Canyon and Lake Lodge, we stopped to visit unusual geothermal features. In 1978, an earthquake caused the Earth’s ground temperatures to soar and melted roots of dead trees that remain scattered around the Mud Volcano and Dragon’s Mouth Spring area today. With ominous sounding names like Sulphur Caldron and Black Dragons Caldron, this seems like the worst place to test fate and deviate from the marked path. On our drive back from afternoon drinks at Lake Lodge with construction reminiscent of the hotel in The Shining, we saw people at Mud Volcano wandering off the boardwalk towards a live buffalo. Shortly after, we passed an ambulance and it made us wonder if there might be a connection between the two.

There are numerous well-marked signs throughout the park stating the dangers of both approaching wildlife and straying from footpaths, especially in active geothermal areas. Most of them are even written in multiple languages, so I still cannot fathom how someone could not understand their significance. Not only is ignoring these warnings a brilliant act of stupidity, but it is also one of complete selfishness. Obviously all logic escapes the individual who blatantly decides to pet the grizzly or test the temperature of a boiling mud pot, so the thought of putting their rescuer in jeopardy during a time of crisis eludes them as well.  The concept is maddening to me.

In briefly researching facts for my Yellowstone posts, I came across an online article that made my skin crawl. A couple years ago, a brother and sister actively ventured off the defined trail around Norris Geyser Basin, the hottest geothermal area in the park. When the brother reached in to check the temperature of the hot pool with the intention of illegally “hot-potting,” he slipped and fell in never to be seen again. By the time authorities reached the scene, there were “no remains left to recover” as his body completely disintegrated and dissolved into the boiling water. This story is not unique. Someone wrote a book about deaths that have occurred in Yellowstone and for all we know, the next chapter could have been written on that day when we were in the park.

Looks like a safe place to play, kids! Anyone up for a game of pick up sticks with the dead trees?


Today’s wildlife sightings:
bison, pronghorn, wolf and cubs, black bear

East side of Yellowstone: Canyon Lodge → Lamar Valley → Grand Canyon of Yellowstone → Lake Lodge → Canyon Lodge

Read more about the Norris Geyser Basin death


Next up: “Geyser Gazers”

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